The Age of George III

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The Battle of Trafalgar, 21 October 1805

At the Battle of Trafalgar, Villeneuve's fleet comprised twenty-seven sail of the line, five frigates and two corvettes. At daylight on 21 October he signalled the fleet to form the order of sailing in two columns and followed that with the signal to prepare for battle. Seeing that the British fleet was heading to cut off his rear ships, Villeneuve ordered his fleet go to about and head north wards again for Cadiz, adding to that the signal to form the order of battle. These manoeuvres, performed by a fleet never before exercised together, were performed slowly and badly. The allied fleet was in some sort of a line by 10 am, but in a crescent formation with the centre ships to leeward. The two nationalities were somewhat mixed, Villeneuve's flagship being supported ahead by the Santissima Trinidad of 130 guns (the biggest man-of-war afloat) and, astern, by the Redoutable, probably the best-trained ship in the French fleet. Gravina, the Spanish Admiral, in the Principe de Asturias was in the rear of the column but the Neptune was in the lead.

The wind had died away, making the British approach very slow. The enemy opened fire on the Victory at 12.15 p.m. but she was still out of effective range. First broadsides were fired at about 12.20 pm and the Victory was under fire for perhaps twenty-five minutes before she replied. She was to suffer 159 casualties in the course of the battle. By comparison the Britannia (100 guns) had ten men killed and forty wounded. The Victory broke the allied line just astern of Villeneuve's flagship, the Bucentaure, and just ahead of the Redoutable (74) being closely supported by the Temeraire (98) and Neptune (98). It was with the Redoutable that the Victory closed, coming at once under heavy musketry fire.

In the meanwhile, Nelson had made a last and probably fatal decision. Eight marines drawn up on the poop had been killed by one cannon ball and Nelson ordered the other marines to disperse and take cover. The result was that the enemy marksmen, who should have been under small-arm fire, could make target practice at their leisure. At about 1.25 pm, Nelson was hit by a musket ball and carried below with an obviously fatal wound. He was to die about three hours later. The Commander-in-Chief had been lost but the battle went on. Out of the battle were the six or eight leading ships on the allied side, which had no opponents. They eventually entered the battle two hours late. There followed a series of conflicts during which the allied ships of the centre and rear were pulverised by gunfire. The Victory with her immediate consorts, Temeraire, Neptune, Leviathan, Conqueror, Ajax and Britannia, overwhelmed the allied centre of six ships. The Royal Sovereign, followed by the Belleisle, Mars and Tonnant, broke through the enemy line and crushed the Fougeux, Santa Ana and Monica. The Bellerophon, with the Colossus, Swiftsure and Orion dealt with another group round the Bahama, and the Colossus with the Achilles and Revenge took the Argonauta and San Idelfonso. Firing ceased at 5.30 pm at about the time the French Achille blew up and the French commanders withdrew with such ships as they could, reaching Cadiz in a damaged state.

Rotherham and the Battle of Trafalgar

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Last modified 12 January, 2016

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